Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprés (Belgian, 1880-1958)
Portrait of Ni Pollock signed 'J. Le Mayeur' (lower left) chalk and watercolour heightened with white 60 x 46cm (23 5/8 x 18 1/8in).
Born in Brussels, fifty-two-year-old war veteran Le Mayeur arrived in Bali in 1932. Having roamed Europe and the Eastern territories after serving as a photographer during the First World War, Le Mayeur had been lured to Bali by its reputation for influencing the work of Pita Maha artists; Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet. Immediately enthralled by the island, Le Mayeur took up residence in Banjar Kelandis where he first became acquainted with Ni Nyoman Pollok, a fifteen-year-old temple dancer.
Although Le Mayeur had been operating as an artist long before his arrival on the island, it is for his body of work executed in Bali that he has been remembered by art history. The artist is allegedly said to have declaimed upon his arrival in Indonesia: 'This time I shall live exclusively for my art and nothing shall distract me'. A warm, tropical palette coupled with the Balinese female as Muse characterises Le Mayeur's works of this period. The languorous and sensual feminine figures are consistently accorded precedence and demand the viewer's attention: the island paradise is thrown into relief by the unearthly beauty of its inhabitants. However, like Spies and Bonnet before him, Le Mayeur's Bali oeuvre displays a distinctly Western European inheritance: 'Although his work depicts daily life in Bali, he is still an exponent of late European impressionism, which favours a gentle, earthy palette of yellow, brown, beige and soft blue which is in contrast to the red, pink, orange and purple accents' (J. Ubbens and C. Huizing, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès: Painter-Traveller, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 127).
Initially intending to stay on the island for less than a year, Le Mayeur never returned home. He purchased a stretch of land along the north of what is now Grand Bali Beach where he erected what would become his marital home and studio. It was in this house that Ni Pollok consistently began to model for the artist. In accordance with Balinese custom, she had retired from legong dancing at the age of 16. Three years after their first meeting, artist and muse were married. Although Le Mayeur's body of work features a host of women in variant attitudes, his wife became his chief sitter for the remainder of his career and, as such, it is probable that the woman depicted in some of these studies can be identified as Ni Pollok.